Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak for a second time on Bill C-20 respecting the commercialization of civil air navigation services. First of all, a number of Bloc Quebecois members have confirmed that the Bloc is not opposed to the principle of creating a quasi-governmental body to control air navigation.
We cannot, however, merely be yes men and say that yes, the principle is a good one, we have no hesitation about it, it is a noble principle to ensure quality air service to all Canadians. It is, in my opinion, the role of the official opposition to ask questions. Mine are specifically related to the needs of the regions.
One may wonder why the federal government is getting rid of its responsibilities for air navigation. One might conclude perhaps that the federal government is not doing a good job. I think there would be few members across the way who would dare to say that the federal government was not doing a good job. On the contrary, I believe that Canada had a very good reputation in connection with air control. There have not been large numbers of fatalities that can be blamed on negligence.
If the government has been doing a good job, why then does it no longer want that job? Essentially, people will admit that, for about the last decade, the government's policy has been aimed at sloughing off its responsibilities toward Canadians onto the users.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois has debated longer than the government would like, it having thought the bill would be adopted promptly. There is one simple reason for this bill, the simple desire to transfer to a quasi-private body the responsibility for controlling this industry and ensuring Canadian safety.
The regions are afraid of those changes. Are they afraid of technology or of changes? The regions are not afraid to move forward. What they are afraid of is that every time there is a change, it results in a reduction of services for them. In Val-d'Or, there is a regional airport with certain services, slowly we have lost our air traffic controllers. They are no longer needed. Traffic can be controlled from Toronto, Montreal or maybe New York or Vancouver. It does not matter, everything is possible.
We know that technology is far more advanced now than in the past, but human errors and instrument errors can still happen resulting in safety being of a lesser quality in the regions than in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or any major airport with services and modern and high performance instruments, but where men and women look after their quality .
In the regions, we are losing out on quality. We have also lost airport fire services. Airport firemen are supposedly not that
important since municipal firemen can do the job in case of an accident. But, as you know, in small municipalities, firemen are not always on duty and by the time they are called, passengers might perish in the flames. To maintain the presence of firemen at the airport, as before, could have improved safety.
Moreover, with all the changes, the regions lost their weather services. Technology might make it possible to call a 1-800 number in Montreal, Quebec City, or anywhere in the world to get a local weather report. Maybe it can be done in theory, but in practice, the weather can change within 15, 20 or 30 minutes and such changes can have a great impact on the security of airplane pilots and passengers. Therefore, in the regions, changes are frightening because they always mean reduced services.
Changes also bring an increase in costs for the regions. They say we will have the same services, the same quality, but that is rarely the case and furthermore, they do not say if there will be an additional cost. For example, if pilots want a weather report, they have to dial a 1-800 number; we should say a 1-800-$$$ number, because it can cost from $4 to $8 to obtain information before making a flight plan.
Is it logical to have a definition of the user pay principle? Nobody can be against that. Those who receive the services will have to pay. It was true also when they modified the CN services in the regions. The CN was privatized. There were changes and services were reduced and now some parts of it will even be closed. So any talk about change causes fear in the regions.
The Canada Post Corporation is another example of privatization. A general outcry slowly rose under the Tories and it is still going on under the Liberals. They do not close local post offices any more; they wait for the postmaster to retire and they simply do not fill the vacancy. This is just like those green boxes they installed, saying that they were still providing the services. Therefore, in the regions, when they speak about change, we always dread some reduction in services.
The federal government wants to shun its responsibilities and get rid of air traffic control services in order not to have to pay anymore. But will Nav Canada replace the government adequately? We are asking ourselves some questions. That is why members of the Bloc Quebecois are making many speeches on the subject. We do not believe the safety of Toronto, Montreal or other major airports will be reduced, because it is the role of Nav Canada to ensure this safety, but we are concerned that, in the regions, for instance, this safety may be overlooked.
It is true that, theoretically, regional airports like the one in Val-d'Or have satellite or radar air control equipment that is as sophisticated as those in Montreal. But, in practice, if we consider that the services of firefighters, air control, radio and weather systems have been reduced, thus increasing the risk of accidents, it is likely the regions' safety will be decreased. It is mathematical.
Moreover, regions are concerned about the way the bill will be passed on to them. Just consider what happened in the past. There was always a bill, although not necessarily in the first or second year. But with limited revenues in the regions, there are not many flights. It is not like Mirabel or Dorval, where there are four, five or eight flights a day. With these revenues, few airports will afford new technologies and, consequently, better safety in the future.
As I was saying, with a preamble stating that safety would have primacy over economy, we would have had a tool forcing Nav Canada to provide not necessarily high quality and costly tools such as those needed by airports like Montreal and Mirabel, but tools that are useful and necessary to ensure safety in the regions.
I think the regions are able, because of the balance created by the fact that everyone pays taxes, to receive a fair minimum service. This is not written in the bill. We would have been in favour of the bill if we had been told this primacy would exist.
Nav Canada will not endanger the safety of Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver airport. After losing the federally managed regional services acquired over the years, we now wonder if these services will ever come back; the chances are pretty slim.
Will we lose the minimal snow removal services? There are many questions we could ask. Will our safety depend on the level of revenue? If the federal government wants to transfer ownership of airports throughout Quebec to the municipalities, will these municipalities, because of the costs, be able to assure us that runways will be cleared properly? Probably, but the level of service will be a little lower than at major airports.
To the user pay policy I could oppose a true principle. If the regions could receive part of the taxes collected on the price of plane tickets, they could perhaps afford to pay for Nav Canada's future services. We could then talk about the user pay principle, but we would also collect some of the revenue. If the federal government can collect the tax revenue, I do not see why the regions could not collect part of it to look after their own airports.
The regions feel shunted aside by Bill C-20; they feel the government is telling them: "If you do not take control of your airports, we will close them". And it closes them in two ways. The municipalities fear that, in the next two to three years, they will be forced to take over the regional airports to prevent the federal government from closing them.
Should they succeed in taking them over, they will have to pay the exorbitant maintenance bills that Nav Canada or another government organization will present them with. This would force them to close the airports. If, however, we specified in a preamble to the bill that safety is paramount, we could help regional airports to carry out safe operations. The regions-including my region of Abitibi, the North Shore, the Gaspé region, and all the northern regions in Ontario and Manitoba-would not have to pay higher bills because of the costs of providing services for relatively few people.
The government was doing a good job in the regions 10 years ago, but things have been going downhill. There is a question mark. Will Nav Canada take over? We have our doubts. That is why we are asking questions and presenting arguments, and why some members are talking about regional problems. We talked about ADM, which is concerned not directly but indirectly, as it is true that there are similarities between Nav Canada and ADM. I think that some members are seizing the opportunity to address this issue.
For the regions, the theory is there. History has a tendency to repeat itself. If Nav Canada is not based on the premise that safety if paramount, we feel that, sooner or later, our regions will lose their airports.